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50 billion images. (Or Print vs Digital Part 2)


As a digital project manager, assisting clients with content management is often a significant part of the role. Tom discussed in a recent post that good photography is crucial to a good website and as an agency, we are meticulous in ensuring the very best image is used to portray the correct message. Managing and cataloguing these images can be a time consuming job but what about our own, personal image banks?

As a generation, we are addicted to digital images. A white paper published by internet.org in 2013 stated that “More than 250 billion photos have been uploaded to Facebook, and more than 350 million photos are uploaded every day on average,” Usage of Instagram averages 60 million photos per day, whilst Snapchat reportedly has 50 million users and Pinterest, 70 million. It is claimed that every 2 minutes we take as many photographs as were taken in the entire 19th century – itself a boom time for photography. That’s a lot of images.

And no wonder, emarketer.com expects there to be in excess of 1.75 billion smartphone users worldwide in 2014. We have high quality cameras at our fingertips everywhere we go. We are obsessed with taking pictures and sharing them digitally but, do we value them? It seems we are no longer photographing for history, for savoured memories, but a strange kind of instant validation that a moment existed, that it was special.

I have a personal backlog of about 50 billion digital images. . . OK more like 30 thousand. But still, they are completely uncatalogued and the task is now totally overwhelming. I chatted to a photographer friend, Tom Baker, intending to write about the best applications for managing digital images. We discussed the baffling number of options, considering Mac or PC, discussed Dropbox, the merits of iPhoto, Picassa and Lightroom. But rather than focusing on how to organise my library, photographers like Tom would argue that we have lost sight of the point, of the value of the images themselves. We have so many images, it is difficult to retain all those memories and they have become less special. In the days of film, there was a greater cost involved so care was taken to get each image right and people learned to take better shots. Care was taken to select the best to include in an album that could be shared with someone in the original sense. Tom was unfortunately burgled and his hard drive was stolen. Though he had been scrupulous in backing up his professional work – all the family’s photographs had gone. Seven years of his young family growing up. He explained that there was an even harsher reality when he was honest with himself.  When had he ever looked at those photos and what had he ever done with them? Our digital obsession often means stockpiling photos for…a rainy day? We may see a generation of children grow up without a family photo album and despite our efforts to capture every moment, they can all be gone in an instant.

Sian raised a valid issue in Print vs Digital and argued that there is merit in both. Current behaviour shows a definite favour for digital imagery, with print the poor relation. Yet with a little more invested time, we can produce longer lasting, palpable ways to enjoy the memories we’ve recorded. Digital tools allow us the spontaneous ability to share the here and now, wherever and whenever in a way that we had never been able to before. But let’s not forget to also appreciate the more tangible. A wedding photo album “to have and to hold” is infinitely more preferable to a set of well organised digital files.

A few ideas…

  • The Cannon Selphy portable printer offers lab quality prints anywhere and lets you print directly from your smartphone.
  •  Shutterfly ThisLife attempts to offer an end-to-end photo solution with cloud based storage. It enables users to upload, organize, and share images online plus a wide range of print items.
  • Blogger Kelle Hampton’s Friday Phone Dump photos are taken with Instagram and dropped into a 12×12 collage using Photoshop Elements.
  • Create a glossy photo book with the likes of Photobox and Snapfish, or even make an old fashioned style album and actually stick the prints in!
  • Brit & Co review a host of creative ideas for turning your images into actual objects including printing on fabrics, transparent glass and ceramic tiles.